As part of “Sunshine Week,” Attorney General Maura Healey announced that her office is offering new online resources to help the public and public bodies better understand and comply with the Open Meeting Law (OML). The AG’s Office will also be seeking input from the public on the state’s OML regulations prior to conducting a review later this year.
“The Open Meeting Law helps ensure transparency and accountability for public bodies in Massachusetts,” AG Healey said. “Sunshine Week highlights the importance of public decision-making and the resources available to help public bodies follow the law.”
The AG’s new resources include new FAQs on topics such as deliberation and electronic communications, meeting minutes and public bodies. The AG’s Office has also added a new checklist for search committees to help them understand when they can enter into an executive session.
Additionally, AG Healey is asking for input from the public on the current Open Meeting Law regulations, along with suggestions for new additions or changes. Later this year, the AG’s Office will review the regulations and draft proposed amendments, which will be open for further public comment.
The AG’s Division of Open Government was created in 2010 to ensure a continued and consistent focus on the law by educating individuals about the OML, enforcing the OML, and acting as a readily accessible resource for members of government, the public, and the press.
“Education of the public, the press and government officials is the key to ensuring compliance with the Open Meeting Law,” said Robert Ambrogi, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association. “Ever since its formation in 2010, the Division of Open Government has made education a top priority, both through its website and through live trainings across the state. The online resources being added today should further enhance understanding of the law among all who deal with it, and thereby also enhance compliance with the law.”
“Municipal officials across the state strongly support the Open Meeting Law,” said Geoff Beckwith, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. “Local leaders administer thousands of public meetings every year, and are committed to working with Attorney General Healey and the Division of Open Government to promote best practices and full transparency at all levels of government. The Attorney General’s office does outstanding work educating local officials and the general public on the complexities of the law, and we look forward to continuing our support and assistance in these efforts.”
Since assuming responsibility for enforcement of the Open Meeting Law at all levels of government in July 2010, the AG’s Division of Open Government has responded to more than 11,000 telephone and email inquiries from members of public bodies, municipal counsel, and the public. The Division also regularly conducts regional trainings and webinars, and issued more than 950 written determinations.
In 2016, the division issued 176 determination letters resolving OML complaints. The most frequently occurring violations were:
• insufficiently detailed meeting notices;
• failure to follow appropriate procedures for entering executive session;
• insufficiently detailed or inaccurate meeting minutes;
• deliberation outside of a properly posted meeting, including email deliberation; and
• failure to follow the requirements of the OML complaint process.
The remedial actions most frequently ordered by the division were:
• immediate and future compliance with the OML;
• creation or amendment of open or executive session minutes;
• attendance at a training on the OML or review of all or part of the Attorney General’s online training video;
• payment of a fine to the Commonwealth’s General Fund.
The division has created a host of resources intended to promote understanding and compliance with the OML. These include answers to certain frequently asked questions, checklists about meeting notices, minutes, and executive sessions, and an online training video that can be found on YouTube and can also be accessed through the AG’s OML web page.
In an effort to better inform the public and government officials about the Open Meeting Law and its requirements, the AG’s Office will hold regional trainings throughout the state this spring. The AG’s Office will also offer live web-based trainings on the law, and more information is available on the OML Training webpage.
The forums are open to the public, and are being offered free of charge. Individuals interested in attending an educational forum or the webinar are asked to register in advance by emailing OMLTraining@state.ma.us.
Visit the AG’s OML web page at: www.mass.gov/ago/government-resources/open-meeting-law/
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